Saturday, May 26, 2007

A brief update.

I'm writing from my family home in Rochester, Massachusetts, where I've been spending a restful week in between the end of the academic year at Fordham and the start of my retreat on Monday. All Jesuits are expected to make an eight-day retreat each year; the only exceptions to this rule are for first-year novices and tertians, who make the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises instead. I'll be making my retreat this year in Montreal under the direction of a Jesuit of the newly-renamed English Canada Province (it used to be called "Upper Canada," a name that was abandoned because its rich historical associations are lost on most moderns). Your prayers for me during my retreat would be appreciated, and please know that I will also be praying for the readers of this blog.

After my retreat, I'll be in Chicago for province days and ordinations. From there, I head to San Jose to start work at Catholic Charities. I probably won't have much opportunity to update this blog between now and then, so the odds are good my next post will be online sometime in June. In the meantime, I'll be celebrating my 27th birthday, which isn't much of a milestone except that it signals a slow shift from the mid- to the late-twenties. A more authentic milestone which I should acknowledge here is the recent marriage of Rebecca Goldenberg and Steve Silver, who are currently in Paris for their honeymoon. I hope the readers of this blog will join me in wishing Becca and Steve the very best. Mazel tov, AMDG.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Twice meme'd.

Earlier this week Karen tagged me for a couple memes, one of the twenty(-one) questions variety and the other concerning favorite saints and would-be saints. The "saint" questions are easy to answer. My favorite saint is Benedict of Nursia - I admit may seem an unusual choice for a Jesuit, but there you are. My favorite would-be saint is Walter Ciszek, whose cause is being considered in Rome (and who could use your prayers). And now for the twenty(-one) questions:

1. Male or Female: Male.

2. Married or Single (or Religious): Religious.

3. Dream Vacation: Hard to say - a trip to Russia or Japan would be very nice, but I'd also be more than happy to spend a few weeks or a month somewhere in the Eastern Townships.

4. Birthplace: New Bedford, Massachusetts.

5. Area I live in currently: The Bronx or, in a broader sense, New York City.

6. Someone you wish you could meet: Robert F. Taft, S.J.

7. Biggest "pet-peeve": People who make shoddy arguments, especially when said arguments are combined with a flippant dismissal of contrary opinions.

8. Favorite religious devotion: Lectio Divina.

9. Favorite saint (besides the Blessed Mother): See above.

10. Favorite sport that you play: I used to play golf, but I haven't been on a course in years.

10a. Favorite sport that you watch: Baseball.

11. Favorite food: Anything involving lamb or salmon, but preferably not together.

12. Tridentine or Novus Ordo: I can appreciate any of the Church's liturgies - Eastern and Western - provided they are done well.

13. Would you (or are you) home school or public: Public.

14. How many kids do you have: None.

15. Ever been in an auto accident: I've been in at least three, but thankfully no one was injured in any of them.

16. Ever seen a pope in person: No.

17. Languages that you know fluently: English. Je parle relativement bien français, mais je ne peux pas dire que je le parle couramment.

18. Last movie you saw in theatres: Breach.

19. Next one you are planning to see: The Lives of Others.

20. Favorite blog: Like Mark Mossa, I decline to answer.

21. Your thoughts on Barney, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause [sic]: I don't have much of an opinion on Barney - in fact, I didn't realize he was still on TV. I don't have a problem with the basic idea of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, who are both completely innocuous as figures of folklore. That said, the transformation of both into icons of American materialism and crass commercialism is regrettable.

I'm not sure who to tag next - if any readers want to do this meme, be my guest. AMDG.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I'm now officially done with the spring semester, having turned in all my papers and completed exams. I'll be in New York for another week, mainly taking caring care of stuff around the house - cleaning my room, for example - before leaving for the summer. My only great ambitions for the coming week are to check out an exhibit of icons at the Ukrainian Museum and to make it to The Cloisters, which I've wanted to visit for as long as I've been here.

Readers may be getting curious about my plans for the summer. I'll be on the move for most of it - making my annual retreat, visiting my family in Massachusetts, spending some time visiting with Jesuits in Chicago, and going on villa at Omena. However, for most of the summer I'll be in San Jose working in the Refugee Services Program at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. I spent a couple months working at Catholic Charities when I was a novice, an experience you can learn something about from this 2005 post. I found my previous stint at Catholic Charities very rewarding, and I'm looking forward to going back to help out with some new projects and to reconnect with folks I got to know when I was there two years ago. I'm sure I'll have more to say about this as the time draws closer, but for now I'm going to go outside and enjoy a fine spring day in New York. AMDG.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

French expats go to polls a day early.

Tomorrow, voters in metropolitan France will go to the polls to choose a new leader in the second round of a hotly-contested presidential election. The two candidates - Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement and Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party - differ dramatically in both style and substance and offer a clear choice to French voters. For a different perspective on the race, the New York Times spoke with some French expatriates who will be voting today - a day early - in Manhattan:

Jean Karoubi, a French hedge fund investor who has lived in New York since 1977, plans to spend much of today at home, "doing my due diligence," he says. He is going to read a ream or two of recent coverage of the French presidential campaign and, more, importantly, telephone a number of friends in Paris in search of insight.

"I will vote relatively late in the day," he said yesterday. "Right now, I'm very close between the two candidates. I'm having a tough time to figure out who to vote for. But I think I can get some inside information from some very plugged-in friends, particularly on the left side."

The final round of the presidential election in France will take place tomorrow. But this year, for the first time, voting is being allowed one day earlier for French citizens in the United States, to encourage them to show up at the polls. (In the past, by the time voters in America made their way to the booths, most of the results back home were known, and pulling a lever seemed futile.)

. . .

There are more than 18,000 French expatriates in the New York area registered to vote, which they may do at any of three places in Manhattan - the French consulate, the cultural services office of the French Embassy or Goethe House - all concentrated within a few blocks on Fifth Avenue, between 74th and 82nd Streets.

As articles in Le Monde and Le Figaro note, over one million French voters are eligible to participate in today's early vote. The Western Hemisphere is home to a considerable number of French expatriates - including around 74,000 in the United States, 46,000 in Canada (of whom 34,000 are concentrated around Montreal), and tens of thousands in Argentina and Brazil. The various French overseas territories count over 800,000 voters among them. 4,900 of these French voters live on Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which I point out only because most readers will probably be surprised to learn that France still has sovereignty over these two islands off the coast of Newfoundland.

French voters living abroad and in the overseas territories turned out in record numbers for the first round of this election, perhaps in part because they had an exciting race on their hands and in part because they would have the new experience of voting before returns from metropolitan France had been publicly announced. As the NYT's Eric Konigsberg notes, the first round also revealed some distinctive voting patterns among expatriate voters. For example, frontrunner Sarkozy won 30.7 percent overall in the first round but garnered 47.4 percent of the vote among expatriates in the Americas, and over 52 percent in New York. I'm not going to offer any analysis of my own - I have to get back to writing a term paper - so click here if you want to read more. AMDG.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Seminary rector: Iraqi leaders indifferent to Christians' plight.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I also feel obliged to keep you posted on a special concern of mine: Iraq's beleaguered Christians, whose suffering continues to be virtually ignored by the global community. Here's the latest, courtesy of AsiaNews:

"Christians in Iraq are on their way to extinction, cut off from the country's political process," said Redemptorist Fr Bashar Warda, newly-appointed rector of the St Peter Major Seminary, which was recently moved from Baghdad to Ankawa
(Kurdistan) for security reasons.

. . .

The clergyman is critical of a democracy that has "turned into a simplistic expression of majority will and the systematic violation of minority rights."

In listing some of the aspects of the grave crisis that is affecting especially the Christian community, he stressed "higher unemployment among Christians, arbitrary seizure of properties owned by Christian families in Baghdad and Mosul, violations of religious freedom and freedom of thought, abductions, attacks and sectarian threats."

He wonders why, for many years, no one has acted. "The answer is simple: the indifference of Iraqi leaders," he said. "They do not consider us as belonging to this nation, our human and intellectual participation as Iraqis to the country's progress along with all the other religious groups that live here."

"They take advantage of us because we have no outside support or our own militia," the rector explained. "They know that all we can do is make appeals and complain. Politicians act convinced that our community is bound to disappear in a few years."
The AsiaNews article goes on to note that recent estimates place the size of Iraq's Christian community at 200-300,000, down from one million at the start of the current war. I've blogged a lot on this issue already, so there's not much more I can add that I haven't already said over and over again. The one thing I will say - echoing somewhat a comment I made here in October - is that my greatest fear is the start of this war was that U.S. involvement in Iraq would help bring about the decimation of one of the world's oldest Christian communities. It's tough to have to say "I told you so." AMDG.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Moby-Dick" should be Mass. state book, kids say.

Today's New Bedford Standard-Times reports on the efforts of a group of Pittsfield fifth-graders to make Herman Melville's Moby-Dick Massachusetts' official state book. For the benefit of the non-initiated, I should explain that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a long - and, in my opinion, admirable - tradition by which elementary school classes petition the legislature to add a particular item to what the Massachusetts General Laws call the "Emblems of the Commonwealth." The paradigmatic example of this sort of petition, which is intended to teach schoolchildren about the legislative process, may be found in "The Ladybug Story," which tells of the successful efforts of a second-grade class in Franklin to have the ladybug declared "the insect or insect emblem of the Commonwealth," i.e., the state bug. Thanks to similar petitions, the Commonwealth has an official dog (the Boston terrier), an official cat (the tabby), an official folk hero (Johnny Appleseed), an official rock (the Roxbury puddingstone), an official historical rock (Plymouth Rock), an official explorer rock (Dighton Rock), an official berry (the cranberry), an official cookie (the chocolate chip cookie), an official children's book (Robert McCloskey's Make Way for the Ducklings) and an official children's author (Dr. Seuss, who was a Bay State native). These are only a few from a much longer list available online.

"Official emblem" petitions are generally fairly innocuous, and they often become laws if their legislative sponsors are willing to go to bat for them. However, some of these petitions have excited their fair share of controversy. For example, the proposal to make the chocolate chip cookie the official cookie of the Commonwealth ran into opposition from some who felt that the Fig Newton should get the designation instead. Chocolate chip cookies and Fig Newtons were both invented in Massachusetts, and the battle basically pitted legislators from the South Shore (home of the original chocolate chip cookie) against their colleagues from Boston's Western suburbs (where the Fig Newton originated). The Fig Newton crowd didn't have a leg to stand on, as anyone with a good memory for old TV commercials could've told them that the Fig Newton is not a cookie but "fruit and cake." A good compromise measure might have been to make the chocolate chip cookie the Commonwealth's official cookie and then to declare the Fig Newton the official "fruit and cake" of the Commonwealth. Surprisingly, this didn't occur to the solons at the State House, and the Fig Newton fans were sent empty away.

Returning to the matter at hand, the proposal to make Moby-Dick the official book of the Commonwealth strikes me as a very good one. Though I sympathize with the many readers who've had to struggle through Moby-Dick against their will, I am a fan of the book and am proud of the fact that its opening chapters are set in the city where I was born. I also believe that designating Moby-Dick as the official state book would help unite the Commonwealth. Set partly in Southeastern Massachusetts, Moby-Dick was written in Western Massachusetts (in Pittsfield, where the students currently lobbying for the book live) by an author who, though born in New York, came from old Boston stock. The same claim cannot be made for Henry David Thoreau's Walden, which the Standard-Times article suggests as a potential competitor to Moby-Dick for "official state book" status. Written by a native of Concord and set in the same town, Walden lacks the ability to unite Bay Staters of various stripes as Moby-Dick can. The idea of making Walden the official book of the Commonwealth might appeal to the same solons who wanted to make the Fig Newton the official state cookie, but I hope it doesn't appeal to anyone else. Then again, as the Standard-Times notes, "the field for this particular honor [of official state book] could become awfully crowded" if one considers the works of other great Massachusetts writers like Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton. One way or another, I commend the fifth-grade supporters of the Moby-Dick "official state book" petition, and I hope this exercise teaches them something about the legislative process. AMDG.